J.B. Hall Worthy

Newsworthy topics such as Jerome Bettis and Shaun Sarrett are addressed by Jim Wexell, who also takes readers from Marion Motley to HaHa Clinton-Dix in this round of questions about the Steelers.

Another long, cold offseason is underway so it's time to answer questions. Let's start with a reaction/question to my comment on Twitter that Hall of Fame finalist Jerome Bettis deserves induction because he's the greatest big back of all time.

David Todd: Why does Jerome Bettis being "big" give his HOF candidacy any greater legitimacy?

Teams have been looking for big backs ever since the Cleveland Browns won four AAFC and an NFL championship -- consecutively -- behind 232-pound steamroller Marion Motley. But even Motley, who played in an average of 12.8 games per season in those five years, never rushed for 1,000 yards. Bettis did so eight times, even though he was such a target and took a serious beating game after game, third-and-short after third-and-short, goal line pile-up after goal line pile-up. And even after his days as a 1,000-yard starter were over, Bettis led the Steelers to a championship as a late-game closer, when everyone knew he was getting the ball.

Big backs just don't last that long, and with that kind of productivity. In my research years ago I believe that 253-pound Christian Okoye had the next most 1,000-yard seasons of backs weighing 240 pounds or more (I may have even studied 235-pounders as well), and Okoye only had two. The Hall loves uniqueness in an athlete, and there's never been anyone like Bettis. And he has the numbers, the ring, and the intangibles to match that uniqueness and he should be an easy choice for the voters next month.

SteelDominance: I remember you saying that Nick Williams was still using a walking stick. Is he someone we can be excited about next year? I know as far an athlete he was special.

Nick Williams is the seventh-round pick who, yes, is a physical marvel; however, he was put on IR early in the year and last month I saw him in a boot and using a walking aid. Perhaps there was another procedure done, but I don't know. The bigger point is that this raw defensive end was going to need practice time and he didn't get any. This year he'll start over again and should not be counted upon for much help.

ECBoy: What do you think the odds are that the Steelers try to upgrade the NT spot either thru the draft of free agency?

Boy, this position really has me flummoxed. The stats from 2000, the year before they drafted Casey Hampton, are similar to this past season's.

In 2000, with Kimo Von Oelhoffen -- a natural 3-4 end -- playing NT ahead of Kendrick Clancy, the Steelers allowed 4.0 yards per carry. This past year, with players I believe also to be more naturally 3-4 ends, Steve McLendon and Al Woods, the Steelers allowed 4.3 yards per carry. Some of that had to do with rookie linebackers (among others) replacing outstanding run stoppers such as James Harrison, Larry Foote and LaMarr Woodley. But I'm sure some of it had to do with the departure of Hampton.

Chris Hoke, Hampton's former backup who helped coach the defensive linemen at training camp, swears to me that McLendon's all the nose tackle they're going to need.

The other part of the argument is that NTs are playing less in this pass-happy league, but the stats don't really bear that out. The Steelers used as many NT snaps as they did in 2008, and that's not counting 2-DL fronts on pass downs with an end lining up over the center.

I don't see the Steelers finding anyone -- or even searching for someone -- in free agency who'll play the nose any better than I believe McLendon will. But Louis Nix of Notre Dame is a natural 3-4 NT who would allow the Steelers to move McLendon and bolster the numbers deficiency at DE. So the odds aren't long. Let's say they're 6-1 that they'll trade down in the first to draft Nix, like they did in 2001 with Hampton.

Dam3391: Do you see anything about the organization, coaches, or players that has become stale? I mean when you have a way of doing things with a great group for the better part of a decade, and a lot of those pieces have gone, do you need to do some re- evaluation on approach from the top on down?

Yeah, the media.

No, just kidding. Kind of. I've been there since 1995 and I believe in the philosophies this ownership espouses. Anyone who's been around this team that long has to know this stuff is brought up during every down cycle. So until the stale scribes start getting annoyed and begin banging pots and pans on their porches, I don't see the Steelers feeling the need to change. Not that the media would influence them, because patience has always been their main staple. So I believe staying the course is naturally the only logical path here.

shoaf13: Rumors have been swirling regarding the reduction of a draft pick. Would this likely be a compensatory pick?

This is a possibility, only because I don't trust or have much respect for the league's leadership. Of course, you know my stance, that taking a draft pick would be w-a-a-a-a-a-y to harsh for Mike Tomlin's sideline blunder. But the way the league worded their maybes when they issued the threat made me think that they might just mess with a compensatory pick since the exact calculation behind the awarding of such picks is a state secret.

All I can say is that by the best definition of the compensatory rulings, the Steelers should receive third and fifth-round picks.

To be more precise, look for the famed AdamT's breakdown as we get closer to the NFL owners meetings. If the NFL doesn't give the Steelers what AdamT says they are owed, raise an eyebrow or two.

Stillerfreak: Nate Washington???

Absofrigginlutely.

Stillerfreak: OK, I believe the best three WRs in the draft are Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Marqise Lee and they should be gone. Would you pass on Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Matthews and Brandin Cooks in the first? And would any of the above three fall?

I haven't watched much Lee, but he's said to have had a disappointing season, so I assume he will fall. He returns kicks, too, so that would interest the Steelers. Evans is a big man and will probably fall. Does this guy ever jump? Or has he gotten away with just being bigger than everyone else till this point?

As for your second tier, Benjamin I discuss below; Matthews is a polished stud who I don't think will run a great time so he may be a bottom-of-the-round guy; and Cooks is Antonio Brown -- thank you sir may I have another?

There are others, like the two from LSU for example. So there won't be a need to reach.

ChrisM: Coaches raved about Markus Wheaton in the preseason. Do you see him being as productive as Emmanuel Sanders in his second or third year?

I think he'll outperform Sanders by his third year. This was a tough year for Wheaton. After he was drafted in the third round he couldn't report for spring practices because of the NFL's archaic agreement with the NCAA about graduating classes. The NFL of course wants to keep its free minor-league system, so it obliges the NCAA on this ridiculous rule.

Wheaton caught up in training camp but then mangled his pinky in London and missed five weeks of practice. That set him back to the point at which he wasn't considered to be much help down the stretch, and a broken middle finger on the same right had didn't help late in the season.

But as you pointed out, the coaches do like him. And Ben Roethlisberger, his next-door- neighbor and mentor in the locker room, does too. Jerricho Cotchery expects big things. But the voice that still rings out to me is that of the great Tim Brown, who raved about Wheaton's workouts last summer.

Jon Dorsey: What are your thoughts on Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner?

Let me take you back to my conversation with former Florida State middle linebacker Vince Williams. I asked the Steelers rookie about several Seminoles, among them Joyner, their nickel corner who moved from safety this season.

A safety who can cover WRs is always interesting, and I wondered if he could play safety in the league. I drove that angle at Williams, who kept repeating "He's a good football player." A smart, savvy free safety? "A good football player."

So perhaps I was expecting too much. In the national championship game, Joyner played well, but on the second viewing he just seemed like another small nickel corner who made a handful of smart plays, but at his size he didn't look like a future safety. I looked him up on NFLDraftScout.com: 5-7 3/4.

Since the Steelers really don't need a nickel corner with William Gay already there, I don't see Joyner coming here in the first two rounds. If they really like him, their comp pick at the bottom of the third might suffice, but they have so many other needs that I'm going to call him a fourth-rounder for this particular team. Someone else will take him sooner.

A.J.: Do you think Vince Williams is the long term solution at ILB?

I really enjoy talking to Williams, and the aforementioned conversation in which I couldn't direct him into easy hyperbole about his former teammate told me even more about his character. I really think he has future captain written all over him, and he did get better as his rookie season crash course continued. But then again, the Steelers started Terence Garvin over Williams late in the season because of Garvin's coverage skills. So, really, I need to learn more details before I can answer this either way.

Mike Frazer: Do you think the Steelers will make a run for Mike Munchak for O-line coach? Seems a good fit to me.

I assume Munchak will look for either another head coaching job or a coordinator job before he would take an OL coaching job. By then, I assume, the Steelers will have a man in place.

First up to be interviewed is the assistant last season to the deposed Jack Bicknell, Shaun Sarrett. The 34-year-old has been with the Steelers for two seasons after serving as the OL assistant for three seasons at Duke.

Matt666: Other than Le'Veon Bell, do you see any of the RBs from 2013 returning?

I would like to see Jonathan Dwyer back but he may want a fresh start somewhere else. Felix Jones would be an easy signing, but I want more grit out of a third-down back. Those guys -- and you may remember Mewelde Moore as an example -- are on the field when you're behind late in games and they have to make so many savvy decisions. That's not Jones' forte (but of course it's Bell's). I do like Alvester Alexander as a guy who could surprise off the practice squad. He did play at Wyoming, and everybody loves a Cowboy.

Gotham Steeler: Of the following top prospects, which one would the Steelers be most likely to select as the 15th pick: WR Kelvin Benjamin, TE Eric Ebron, DL Ra'shede Hageman, ILB C.J. Mosley, CB Darqueze Dennard or S HaHa Clinton-Dix?

Lot of time left and much to learn. Let me just give you my negatives: Benjamin was ignored by his QB too often in the big game; why isn't he trustworthy? Ebron is the complete package, but with Heath Miller still going strong and others under contract, I might attack the deep TE crop later. Hageman looks like the perfect 3-4 DE, but I have questions about his motor because sometimes he looks like Albert Haynesworth, both the good and bad. Mosley is another Nick Saban-trained ILB and that hasn't been a successful route in the NFL; is he the best athlete or does he just seem to fill a need? Dennard isn't 6 feet tall and hasn't show any zone skills yet. And Clinton-Dix has the body and the range, but what about his ball skills and play against the run? Questions and more questions. Hopefully the answers will become known by May.

Danimal: What are your thoughts on the direction for the Steelers at ILB?

I'll try to get some internal answers for you soon. I'm not convinced Foote will be cut. Sean Spence will have to prove himself because no one knows the answer. As I wrote -- and asked LB coach Kevin Butler about -- last April, consider Spence to be gravy only, meaning look beyond him until he proves otherwise. And forget about Jarvis Jones moving inside.

Don't look at each position as Need or No Need. If a stud ILB is available in the draft, someone you really, really like, you draft him. The guy who really intrigues me here is BYU OLB Kyle Van Noy, who looks, to me, to be the next James Farrior, or at least Chad Greenway.


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